Grit, Pride, Love, and Determination: What Makes Our Catholic Schools Succeed

January 28th, 2014

As we begin Catholic Schools Week, let me send an early Valentine to all our wonderful students, teachers, principals, staffs, volunteers, boards, benefactors, parents, parishioners, and clergy who, with God’s grace and the sound heritage we’ve inherited, keep them strong.

We’ve been through a lot of trial. Forty-five years ago, especially as it became obvious that we would soon no longer have the precious resource of a numberless supply of our beloved Sisters, Brothers, and Priests, many predicted the demise of Catholic schools.

My predecessors would not let this happen. Not only were Cardinals Cooke, O’Connor, and Egan personally fervent about the inestimable value of our schools, but they knew you were as well.

Our schools got their problems for sure. But, they’re still the best thing we got for passing on our faith and for providing a first-rate education. Everybody – - friend and foe alike – - acknowledges this.

I sometimes wonder if the trials and hardship that come with our Catholic Schools are actually what make them so good. When you’ve got boards, principals, and priests who have to scrape for every dime; when parents have to sacrifice luxuries and even some essentials to keep their kids in our schools; when grandparents and volunteers pitch in to paint classrooms and repair leaks; when you’ve got teachers who could make a lot more money elsewhere, but freely choose Catholic schools; well, then you’ve got grit, pride, love, and determination.

Hits keep coming. Two weeks ago, the renowned Sisters of the Sacred Heart made the deeply painful decision, in concert with their dedicated board, that their splendid Mother Cabrini High School would not be able to open next fall. And another high school that’s already fighting hard just to stay alive, Monsignor Scanlon, was damaged severely by fire.

Sometimes we feel like saying with St. Theresa of Jesus, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have very many!”

Yet, the signs of hope are radiantly there. Our regionalization, while still in first gear, is working. The boards that now govern our regional and archdiocesan high schools have brought energy, competence and a sense of ownership. Pathways to Excellence – - our strategic plan for Catholic education – - continues to be implemented, with special attention to renewed Catholic identity, strengthened academic performance, financial stability, and more effective marketing. And there seems a very good chance that Albany will finally come through and approve the Education Investment Tax Credit.

As Sister Diane told me a couple weeks ago when I spent the morning at Santa Maria school in the Bronx, “I love our kids. When I get, tired and discouraged, wondering if it’s worth the massive effort, all I do is look at them. It’s all worth it. We can’t let them down.”

Thanks, everybody, for not letting our kids down.

Serving Young Adult Catholics in New York

January 24th, 2014

You might remember how, about four-and-a-half years ago, Bishop Dennis Sullivan, then our auxiliary bishop, now the chief shepherd in the diocese of Camden, began what I call the antipasto for our current process of pastoral planning, Making All Things New.

He, along with a couple dozen faithful collaborators, toured the archdiocese, holding “town hall meetings” for thousands of the folks. His question was simple: what are the needs of God’s People? What spiritual care and pastoral service do you most expect from the Church? What especially would you like to see this archdiocese start, or do better?

Five or six pressing pastoral needs surfaced, and we’ve spent the last four years trying to respond to them. Let me mention one of them to you: young adult ministry.

Our parents and grandparents reported that young adults — that means usually post-college to late thirties — were drifting from the Church. Used to be, they noted, that young adults got married in their early twenties, had babies quickly after that, and got settled into a parish. No more! The average age for marriage (for those that do marry at all, which is yet another big challenge) is now late twenties and early thirties.

So, guess what? Young adults drift , and are sometimes in a “no-man’s land” when it comes to the Church. Thank God, some remain active and committed, although they may “parish-hop”; others become lacklustre in their faith; others, sadly, leave the Church, for no religion at all, or for another, usually evangelical Church.

The priests told us this was indeed the case, and that the problem was beyond the remedy of any one single parish. What was needed, they all urged, was diocesan-wide action. We heard you!

Over the last six-weeks or so, I’ve been to three “humdinger” events for young adults.

In Advent, our recently expanded Young Adult Office sponsored a Mass on a weekday evening at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and asked me to be the celebrant. They do this monthly. The cathedral was jammed. Confessions were heard prior to Mass; the music was excellent; I tried my best to give a decent sermon; the crowd was attentive, reverent, happy.

Young Adults gathered for Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

After Mass, I mingled with them, and heard them observe how much they appreciated the company of other Catholics their age. A big chunk of the group then adjoined to a nearby locale for “milk and cookies.” (You know better!)

Right after New Year’s, I attended another event for our young adults, this one called Catholic Underground, at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on East 90th Street.

Again, SRO, with even hundreds down in the basement. This crowd spent the hour in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, praying the evening divine office of the Church, with moving, live meditative chant and music as a backdrop. A half dozen priests heard confessions, and they coaxed me into saying a few words at the conclusion of our prayer. All adjourned to the hall afterwards for a concert, refreshments, and fellowship.

Finally, a couple of Sundays ago, I offered the 7:30 p.m. Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue. I had heard that this, too, was a popular mecca for young adults, and sure enough, it was. Great crowd, uplifting music, good participation, well-planned worship . . . and drinks and snacks afterwards.

I heard the same message: these young adults enjoy sleeping-in and loafing on Sunday morning, and look forward to the evening Eucharist and good company later in the day.

These young adults tell us they search for three things: nourishment in their faith through good prayer and worship; friendship with others who share their religion; and opportunities for Christian service.

Our Archdiocesan Young Adult Office is hyper to respond to these needs. From what I have seen, they’re doing it! And, they’ve even got workers in the other areas of our expansive archdiocese to meet young adults there. Here’s how you can access them: www.catholicnyc.com.

We’ll keep trying, because these young adults need the Church . . . and we sure need them!

Michael Garvey on What Being Catholic Is All About

January 23rd, 2014

Recently I came across one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time on what it really means to be a Catholic by Michael Garvey of Notre Dame University.

He writes that the Church is,

“a conglomeration of Eucharist-addicts. To admit or, perhaps better, to “confess” that we remain in the Church is no more than to acknowledge our need. We are blessed because of that need, according to the Beatitudes, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions about who we are and what the Church is made of. Right at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus Christ gives that long list of occasionally unpronounceable names to emphasize a truth put memorably by the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe: “God’s plan is worked out not in pious people, people with religious experiences, but in a set of crude, passionate and thoroughly disreputable people. Jesus belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liars — he belonged to us and came to help us. No wonder he came to a bad end and gave us some hope.”

You can read the whole piece here.

Supporting the Euromaidan Movement in Ukraine

January 23rd, 2014

Along with many others in the New York community, I am following the somber situation in Ukraine with growing alarm.

Last August, I was honored to be part of the dedication of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Resurrection Cathedral, in Kiev, and was in awe at the youth and vitality of a Church that had been starved, jackbooted, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted and martyred by Hitler, Stalin, and company.  With thousands of others, I praised God for an apparent new springtime where Democracy, human rights, and religious freedom were in bloom in Ukraine.

Those high summer hopes have now turned as cold as this New York winter day.  What began as inspirational, prayerful, peaceful, powerful protest, dubbed the Euromaidan Movement, characterized by prayer and song led by Jewish, Orthodox, and Catholic clergy, has turned brutal and nasty, with government thugs relishing the chance to bludgeon and harass the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Ukrainians, and oppressive laws quickly passed to suppress freedoms.

Two men I deeply admire — the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kiev, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and Bishop Borys Gudziak, one of the founders of the promising Catholic University of Ukraine — keep in touch.  They’ve been leaders urging peace and restraint, while prophetic on behalf of human dignity, civil rights, and the place of religion in the reconstruction and renewal of Ukraine.  They are near tears, and look in vain for allies in their noble cause.

We Catholics in the United States cannot let these brave Ukrainians, whose allegiance to their religious convictions has survived “dungeon, fire, and sword,” languish.  They deserve our voices and our prayers.

Nor can we as American citizens fail them, as we call for our government to stand with them.

Respecting Life in New York

January 21st, 2014

Sunday is always colorful, interesting, and inspirational at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as thousands from all over the world crowded in for prayer, to light a votive candle, or to worship at one of a dozen Masses.

Last Sunday seemed even more so.  I started the day meeting the leadership of our Knights of Columbus, the largest volunteer organization in the country.  We spoke about our common efforts to protect the innocent, fragile life of the baby in the womb, but also about their sterling work to assist poor, mostly immigrant children attend our first-rate inner city Catholic schools, and their touching initiatives on behalf of our “special kids” with physical and mental challenges.

It was frigid outside as I processed to the Cathedral for 10:15 Mass, and I noticed a larger than usual number of police officers.  When I asked why, I was told that a Fundamentalist sect had warned that they would protest in front of St. Patrick’s, to blast the Church for being “gay-friendly,” for welcoming people with same-sex attractions, and for the teaching of the catechism that gays were God’s children, with an inherent right to dignity and respect.  Nothing new – – these fringe folks had picketed us before.

Sunday’s was a special “Right-to-Life” Mass, penance for the tragedy of abortion on demand, and recommitment to the civil right to life for the baby in the womb.  The Knights were there, as mentioned earlier, and the Mass as SRO with others in the pro-life movement.  The Sisters of Life were there, for instance, with mothers and their babies who had gotten through a “problem pregnancy” with the sisters’ love.  A high school basketball team from California, on their way to a championship game, then to D.C. for the renowned March for Life on Wednesday were there, and there was the police officer, his wife, three other children, and their new baby, whom I would have the joy of christening after Mass.  That beautiful new baby had Down’s Syndrome, reason enough for an abortion, as 90% of such babies are aborted, in this culture Pope Francis calls “throwaway.”  Not for this loving family!

After the moving Mass, back out to the cold, in yet another “Pro Life” project, the Feeding Our Neighbor initiative, sponsored by Catholic Charities and the United Jewish Appeal.  Last year, 900,000 meals were provided the hungry by the food donated in parishes and synagogues last Sabbath and next.

A reporter asked if the scheduling of the event had anything to do with the Birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King.  I replied that the date was chosen since it’s the coldest time of the year; when a lot of the food donated at Christmas had already run out; because it was close to the January 22nd Respect Life observance, and to feed the hungry was sure pro-life; and, yes, because Reverend King preached the Bible, that all are God’s children, made in his image and likeness, and that wherever life was threatened – – violence, poverty, hunger, discrimination, abortion – – God’s People defend it.

On the way back into the Cathedral, I greeted many of the great folks from the Dominican Republic, now proud New Yorkers, jamming St. Patrick’s for their feast of “Our Lady of Altagracia.”  I know so many of them as Catholics active in immigration reform, pro-life, curbing of gun-violence in their neighborhood, and keeping our inner-city schools open for their kids.

A good Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . .does any of this seem “extremist” to you?

Ways to Love the Poor with Pope Francis

January 14th, 2014

Pope Francis is an excellent teacher.  He’s a classical Jesuit, and has himself taught in high school (chemistry and literature, I hear) in Argentina.

An effective pedagogue sets a few clear goals for his class.  “Professor” Francis sure has done so for the Church, for the world, for all God’s children.

Among his goals is a call to love and serve the poor.  No surprise, since this is a clear, clean goal of Jesus in the gospels.

This month of January presents us a chance to grow in our love and service of the poor.

January 20th is the birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, a man admired by Pope Francis, a man prophetic in his summons to racial justice and equal opportunity for the poor.

Then, January 22 is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn Baby.  Is anyone more vulnerable, more fragile, more in need of love, care, and protection than the unborn baby in her mother’s womb?

January 26 – February 2 finds us again in the Feeding Our Neighbor Campaign, as we come together in the cold to collect food to stock our shelters, soup kitchens, and parish pantries, responding to the Lord who said, “When I was hungry you gave me to eat.”

And, January 26 – February 1 is Catholic Schools Week.  The experts tell us that one of the tried-and-true ways of helping the poor escape a trapped-life is by educating the children in one of our excellent Catholic schools.  They’re really the best “War on Poverty” programs around.

Not bad messages — from Jesus and Pope Francis — this first week of the year.

ArchCare: An Innovative Approach to Catholic Healthcare

January 13th, 2014

Healthcare in our country is in a state of turmoil. While there are many areas of concern, what troubles me the most is the inaccurate perception that Catholic healthcare in our country and, especially here in New York, is in retreat.

True, we have seen the closings of numerous Catholic hospitals in our area, and, sadly, just a few weeks ago another Catholic facility, Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, filed for bankruptcy after a long financial struggle. While Saint Francis was not affiliated with the archdiocese, the potential loss of yet another Catholic institution is still troubling to us as Catholics. I am sure this is a very difficult time for the wonderful Sisters of St. Francis, who have so ably tended the sick there for nearly a century.

These negative headlines should not obscure all the great things that are happening in Catholic healthcare across the Archdiocese of New York. Our archdiocesan healthcare ministry, ArchCare, today is serving more people than ever, and has grown in ways we never could have imagined just a few years ago, when changing health policy and plummeting government reimbursements made the outlook far from certain.

The genius of the Church is that we have always been able to adapt our ministry to meet the needs of society. In the last two years alone, ArchCare has modernized and expanded its rehabilitation centers and opened two new community-based care centers that deliver all the services needed to keep seniors out of nursing homes. We introduced an array of healthcare plans that coordinate members’ every care need, created a new Assisted Living Program, and took steps to expand our palliative care and hospice services. Through its sponsorship of Empire State Home Care, one of the region’s oldest and most respected home care providers, ArchCare now provides top quality home care for infants through elders throughout the five boroughs and Westchester. As part of our efforts to bring still more of our Catholic services to the northern counties, we have already expressed interest in acquiring Saint Francis’ home care unit.

Our healthcare ministry continues to care for nearly 2,000 elders in five nursing homes. In addition, we care for the elderly in nine religious orders, significantly reducing their financial burden of caring for retired members and freeing funds to reinvest in their Catholic missions. And ArchCare’s renowned centers for people with HIV and Huntington’s disease, children with profound neurological impairments, and developmentally disabled children and adults all were established to fill critical gaps in care in our community. Where others said, “We can’t,” we as Catholics said, “We can, and we will!”

As our society continues to struggle with all the changes taking place in healthcare, I am pleased to tell you that the Catholic health ministry of the Archdiocese of New York is strong. While there have been changes in some of our programs, our creative care of the sick in the name of Jesus, the Divine Physician, will continue in fresh, innovative ways long into the future. I encourage you and your families to explore all that ArchCare has to offer.

Insight from the New York Post

December 18th, 2013

Today the New York Post published an editorial on Judge Brian Cogan’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. I would like to share it with you.

Here is an excerpt:

For a while it looked as though the president had got the best of the cardinal.

Two years ago, Timothy Cardinal Dolan left an Oval Office meeting believing he had President Obama’s word that his health-care regulations would respect the conscience rights of religious organizations. A few weeks later, the president phoned to say the Department of Health and Human Services was going ahead with a mandate requiring even church groups to underwrite insurance that paid for birth control, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.

Now a court has just handed the cardinal a big victory — and the president a huge defeat. In a landmark ruling, Judge Brian Cogan of the Eastern District of New York not only found that the president’s mandate violates religious freedom, he issued the first permanent injunction against it.

You can read the whole editorial here.

Insight from the New York Daily News

December 17th, 2013

I recently came across two insightful opinion pieces in the New York Daily News this week, that I would like to share with you.

On Sunday, Dr. George Mussalli, a former chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Vincent’s Hospital- Manhattan, wrote an excellent op-ed on how Catholic healthcare actually does more to truly support  women.

Here is an excerpt:

The ACLU suit is clearly not about medical care. It is an unfortunate attempt to target Catholic health-care facilities writ large — which, if successful, would endanger one-sixth of all hospital beds in America, including the only hospital in Muskegon, where Means might need future care.

Catholic hospitals are open to all: the uninsured, the unborn, the undocumented, those of all cultures, creeds or no creed at all. If forced to make a terrible choice between participating in abortions and closing, I fear that still more Catholic hospitals will choose to close. With Americans struggling to find dignified access to health care, that’s the last thing we need.

Click here to read the whole column.

This morning, the New York Daily News published an editorial on Judge Brian Cogan’s excellent ruling on religious freedom. You may have seen the Archdiocese of New York’s statement yesterday about Judge Cogan’s decision.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

Three federal appeals courts have reached conclusions similar to Cogan’s, in challenges to Obamacare’s contraception mandates filed by profit-making companies whose owners conduct their businesses according to religious principles. Two additional appeals panels have dismissed such claims on the ground that corporations cannot hold religious views. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide the issue.

The one-size-must-fit-all structure of Obamacare explains why the President wound up breaking his pledge that Americans could keep their health coverage if they like it. He ordered up new provisions for everyone, so the policies people liked went over the side.

Here, forced uniformity has pitted the President against a basic tenet of life in these United States. Not where he should be.

To read the whole editorial, click here.

St. Nicholas Project

December 16th, 2013

This past weekend, I was pleased to help Catholic Charities with their annual St. Nicholas Project. I joined Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan , New York Catholic Charities’ Junior Board and hundreds of volunteers shop for clothing and blankets at Kmart, which will given to 2,500 individuals and over 650 families in need so that they may stay warm throughout the winter season.

Photos by Chris Sheridan

Picking out pajamas to be donated

Finding a warm scarf

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan shops for families in need